PACIFIC RIM — No one knows when the legend began. But generations of the Sayang* people have waited for its promise to be fulfilled.
For more than five centuries they have eked out their existence on a remote South Pacific island — virtually cut off from the outside world. Here, the Sayang have survived as farmers, growing crops on rocky soil nearly too poor to farm. Rain has been the only source of fresh water. They’ve had no electricity or phone service, not even a doctor.
Twice government troops have tried to force the village of 10,000 to relocate — once at gunpoint. But the Sayang refuse to leave because they are bound by the legend’s promise — the arrival of a foreigner bearing a precious gift.
In 1967 a German tourist stumbled upon their village. He was the first foreign visitor in the history of Yang Jauh.* He left behind his signature and photograph but nothing more. Then in 1986 a Japanese scientist came. She, too, left only her signature and photograph. Nearly 20 years would pass before Yang Jauh village saw another outsider — Southern Baptist worker Michael Martin.*
Would the legend finally be fulfilled?
Agus* remembers Martin’s arrival vividly. His father had taught him the legend as a boy, and it was his father’s voice that echoed in Agus’ mind as he hurried to the house where Yang Jauh’s elders had gathered to receive their latest visitor.
Martin sat waiting. The North Carolina native had spent the past three hours navigating some of the island’s roughest roads to reach the village. He’d heard about it by chance, through a Sayang student who attended one of the English classes Martin taught in town. Nobody else he had talked to on the island knew of Yang Jauh, much less the Sayang. As far as Martin could tell, they weren’t on anybody’s map except God’s.
As he spoke with Agus and the elders, Martin worked up the courage to ask a question that had bothered him since his arrival. Why did these people live in such an inhospitable place in the middle of nowhere?
Agus gazed intently into Martin’s eyes and replied, “Our village has a story that has been passed down through generations. My father told it to me as a child and his father told him.
“That one day a foreigner with white skin will come to our village and reveal something precious to us.”
Silence filled the air. Martin could feel goose bumps race down his back. Agus and the elders stared expectantly at him, waiting.
After a few moments, Agus stood and removed a tattered notebook from a shelf. The first page held a yellowed photograph of the German tourist, his signature and the date he came to Yang Jauh.
Agus pointed to the picture and looked at Martin. “He didn’t reveal anything precious to us.”
Below the German was another photograph, this one of the Japanese woman. She also had signed and dated the book. Agus pointed to her picture. “She didn’t reveal anything precious, either.” Martin didn’t say a word. Agus felt his heart beginning to sink. Perhaps this man wasn’t the one they’d been waiting for.
“I was afraid something got lost in translation — this was too good to be true,” Martin remembers. “I know a lot of people probably would have jumped on that and laid out the plan of salvation. But I wanted to learn more about this story and the culture. Their worldview, their mindset, is very different from ours.”
That night, Agus had a dream.
“I saw a big field in front of my house where everyone ran and gathered to see a helicopter come,” he says.
Suddenly, Martin “appeared and lowered a rope to me. Then the helicopter rose slowly into the air — I grabbed the rope and was lifted up. Everyone watched.”
Though he didn’t understand what the dream meant, Agus felt compelled to strike up a friendship with Martin. Agus repeatedly shared the story of the legend to make sure Martin understood. Little by little, Martin shared the gospel with Agus.
Then one day Martin got the news he’d been praying for — Agus had surrendered his life to Jesus, becoming the first Christian in Yang Jauh’s history.
“I’m excited because I’ve taken Jesus into my heart,” Agus told him. “I am a follower of Jesus the Messiah.”
Since his conversion, Agus has been working to help Martin convince others that Christ is the precious gift the Sayang have been expecting. But it hasn’t been easy. Many in Yang Jauh — even Agus’ younger brother — believe the legend refers to some sort of financial gain. Others have lost faith in the story altogether.
“A lot of people know the legend, but they’re not brave enough to talk about it,” Agus says. “Jesus is the one that can bring peace and calm to this place. … That is what my people are looking for.”
But the ministry among the Sayang is still in its infancy. So far, the language barrier has kept Martin from spreading the gospel on a broad scale, though it hasn’t stopped Agus from sharing one-on-one.
“He’s looking for ways that the Bible intersects his culture,” Martin says. “He really likes the story of Noah and the ark because the Sayang also have a story about a great flood that covered their island.”
Martin believes the Sayang are open to the gospel. He plans to distribute hundreds of cassette tapes containing key Bible stories recorded in their language, believing the tapes could be a tipping point.
“We’re on the verge of this people group being able to hear the gospel in their heart language on a large scale for the very first time,” he says. “Each time I go out to the village someone new has had a dream and has questions about who Jesus is, why we’re coming and what this precious thing is that we have to share with them.
“God’s plan for the Sayang started hundreds of years ago before I ever showed up. I’m just glad to know that I can be a small part of it.”
*Name changed for security.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Graham is a writer for the International Mission Board.)
Loving the peoples of the hard places
The Sayang* are just one example of the many people groups around the world who live in places or cultures where it is especially difficult to share the gospel — and often dangerous for those who believe.
Geographic isolation, physical hardship, threats of violence and lack of freedom and resources are among the biggest barriers separating the lost from the opportunity to know Jesus.
That’s why Southern Baptists are coming together to show their love for lost peoples living in hard places during the Day of Prayer and Fasting for World Evangelization. On May 31, churches across the United States will unite in earnest prayer, asking God to move powerfully among the most spiritually dark places on the planet.
“The Holy Spirit knows no barriers when we get on our knees,” says Gordon Fort, vice president of the International Mission Board’s overseas operations. “Among these ‘pockets of lostness’ where there are no churches, no Christians, no Bibles and no way of reaching the people living there — prayer is the one thing we can do.”
Use this article as you pray for the Sayang and others living in those hard places. A new DVD is available by calling (800) 999-3113 or at imb.org/dayofprayer. Other resources also are available.
*Name changed for security.